In SF’s Restored Smokestack at Magnolia Brewing, A Trip Back In Time

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Kevin Landwehr is a husband, father and designer living in San Francisco, CA with his wife and two children, Violet and Owen — but he is more than just a dad and one-noted creative type: he is a storyteller. His array of architectural, interior and graphic design chops give his work a broader context and better informed approach to every project he gets his hands on, and his work on Smokestack at Magnolia Brewing in Dogpatch, San Francisco is no exception.

“I make relatable and communicative objects and spaces,” Kevin says, a goal he strives to achieve in every project he and his partner undertake through their design studio NOTHING SOMETHING. Started in 2001 with his college roommate, best friend and longtime collaborator Devin Becker, their services may be varied — an offering which includes interiors, custom furniture, lighting, and full-service branding and custom content — but their passion for layering, asymmetric detail, craftsmanship, big palettes and an elegant, 20th-century influence defines their work. This edgy and unique perspective is only met by their hunger for a challenge.

When they were first presented with the opportunity to invest in Magnolia Brewing Co. to build their dream bar / restaurant, they didn’t hesitate, despite the obvious long road ahead and the fact that, at the time, they were still living and based in Brooklyn, NY. Built in 1915 and gutted in 1985, the historical space was originally a factory owned by the American Can Company, the corporation that manufactured the world’s first beer can. The space had long-ago been robbed of its character, but its potential was something Kevin and Devin saw as a great opportunity. At the time (in 2013), San Francisco’s energy was building, so Kevin uprooted his entire family and they relocated to SF at the apex of the reconstruction, saying: “San Francisco’s got some kind of magic right now and I want to spend more time with it. I feel like I have something worthwhile to contribute to this city.”

“We didn’t want to restore the space as it was,” Kevin describes of their approach, “we wanted to use the space to share the larger tale of the 1930s San Francisco waterfront as it applied to food, drink and culture.” In their imagination, the story of this space was going to become that of a waterfront bar, neighboring a butchery, a brewery and a can factory that froze in time. “Our concept [was] that, years after these imagined businesses all closed and boarded up, we discovered this place untouched and decrepit, knocked down the walls, chainsawed the ceilings, brought it all together and opened for business.” With this vision in mind, designing the space involved a lot of discovery and research, something they hoped would be apparent and appreciated by future customers.

The process took nearly three years, which was longer than Kevin anticipated, and they ran into many snags along the way. “A project like ours doesn’t fit a clear mold and the city almost pulled the plug several times,” Kevin explains. “But we pushed through, and, as we came out of the last big storm, it became clearer and clearer that our project was actually manifesting [better than] I’d imagined it.” Their can-do attitude and DIY abilities got them through failing to find furniture that fit, and even running out of floor stain: “I went to the coffee shop next door and asked for their spent grinds, which Devin and I covered the wooden floorboards with,” Kevin laughs, “they looked at us like we were crazy!” The coffee quick-fix ended up creating a beautiful, antique-looking patina, and this scrappy approach to every aspect of the project combined to result in an impressive and absolutely stunning 6,000-square-foot communal barbecue, brewery and cocktail bar — all made using the same authentic processes that would have been used had it been built in the early 1900s.

The build was nothing if not a huge adventure, not just for Kevin and Devin, but for their families as well. After living in a huge Victorian in San Fransisco during the process, “Devin eventually returned to his fiancé in New York to plan their wedding,” Kevin explains, “…and my family and I decided to remain in San Francisco,” where, you guessed it, they are regulars at Smokestack.

Photography by Louis Petrucelli and Eric Wolfinger

  1. Emily says:

    I feel like this would be such a cool place to rent out for a small wedding reception or party! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Lauren Chorpening says:

    I’m so in love with every picture and this whole post! Great job Sabrina!

    1. Me too, haha! Thanks Lauren :)

  3. Lynn says:

    I am beyond impressed and can’t wait to see it in person!

  4. Louise says:

    I really responded to this project, everything about it just screamed “this is it”. My dream house would have something like this, not necessarily the beer taps but the thought and design for anything in this project is succinct. The attention to detail and period is beautiful. It reminded of the first time I went to Brooklyn 2010 and found this gorgeous cafe like something from Paris circa 1915. The place was gorgeous, the staff were great, coffee was bad (coffee in Australia is very good) and of course it didn’t matter because everything else was so gorgeous.Well done to Kevin and Devin

  5. It’s all fantastic! I love the rich colors and textures. They succeeded in creating intimacy with grand volumes of space. Amazing work.

  6. Lyndsay says:

    WOW! This project is so inspiring. I would love to see it in person. Thank you for the amazing pics and detailed description of the project. This is truly an amazing space! Well done!

  7. madlyn says:

    A “tour de force” of the highest order! I am blown away!

  8. Leslie says:

    Teeny typo alert (image 22) — the wood strips are lath, not lathe. (A lathe is the machine that’s used to turn wood)

    Yes, it’s a small thing, but DS is such a fantastic blog and it’s so important to be accurate with the terms in your field of focus. Otherwise, a great post, a wonderful space. The conceptual approach was very interesting; it’s nice to get the background on how much work it takes to create a space like this.

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      Typos happen. Thanks for pointing this one out, I’ll correct it.


  9. dawn says:

    This is my favorite post ever.

    In all time “ever”.

  10. Love the Thonet barstools – beautiful curved wood


  11. Liz says:

    I want to live in this bar, its so wonderful.

  12. Anna says:

    This is possibly my favourite ever article on design sponge. The photos and reading about the care that was invested in making every detail special and authentic (love the use of the old newspapers underneath the wallpaper) absolutely warmed my heart. So inspiring and beautiful. Thank you for posting!

  13. Absolutely stunning! Amazing job! Every detail is impecably beautiful. I must check it out next time I’m in SF.

  14. Vikki says:

    Enjoyed a beer here last May. This well designed space truly was awe inspiring! Hope to go back soon!

  15. Megan says:

    Wow, this is beautiful! Hard work really does pay off!

  16. LOVE seeing beautiful spaces come together in articles like this!

    It’s always been a dream of mine to work with a firm like NOTHING SOMETHING.

    Thanks you so much for sharing, Grace and Team DS.


  17. Thanks everyone! I’m in awe of how kind and supportive this community is.

    Hugs to Grace and of course Sabrina Smelko for taking the time to include our project, and I need to credit the artist Aurora Mercado for shooting my especially flattering portrait.

    What’s truly important here though is that my Mother liked the article. You know what I’m talking about.

    1. Grace Bonney says:


      You can’t beat Mom approval. I know how you mean :)


  18. Margot says:

    This is really, really beautiful. So much love and attention to detail has gone into this.

  19. If anyone would like to see a video all about the making of this project, this one is pretty awesome:


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